v) “I want a bigger share,” Cang says

“I want a bigger share,” Cang says, wiping blood off his knife.

“A bigger share of the mushrooms?” Fassn asks. He’s sitting atop the ugobok’s neck, as though riding the motionless creature.

“Indeed. Once they have been transmogrified to gold.”

Shyan hefts the tear duct. It’s goopy, amorphous, and stains her breastplate with vile juices. “Is the mushroom man really going to need all of this?”

“There are many mushrooms to change,” Cang says. His eyes glint.

“What if he’s gone?” Shyan struggles with the duct. It’s still cold from Abia’s fading magic. “What if we get back there, and find only mushrooms?”

“Mr. Jashenzizok wouldn’t dare,” Fassn says. He adds, “My mouth hurts,” and rubs his jaw.

“Our crates,” Abia says. She runs a hand gently down one of the ugobok’s lifeless fangs.

“Worthless, compared to all that gold. Come on,” Cang says, hopping to grab Fassn’s pant leg and drag him down. “Let us move. Mr. Jashenzizok awaits with our prize.”

iv) Abia channels frost into the ugobok

Abia channels frost into the ugobok, trying desperately to keep it from regaining its monstrous strength. She thinks of the Jiko’s former realm, and of Grumalla, gardening, lonely. She wonderes if the place is still cold, now, or if their actions really did help to warm it up. She imagines that she’s facilitating the transfer of its frigid clime, through her flesh, along every nerve ending from her heart through her fingers, and into the scaly hide of the ugobok, keeping the dangerous creature sedate.

The snake twitches and shudders as Cang works on its eye. Abia keeps her touch anchored, gentle but firm, moving with the body of the snake. Her face is calm, neutral, but inside, she’s terrified she might break contact or concentration, and in that instant, the ugobok’s enormous tail will flick and summarily kill her friends. She ruminates on this, pictures fleshy, animal cells overcome with tiny points of frost — partly to keep the spell alive and vibrant, and partly to ignore the bloody violence Cang wreaks with his knife.

iii) “What’s to feel bad about?”

“What’s to feel bad about? This thing would eat us if it could,” Fassn mumbles. His mouth, now entirely empty of teeth, is tender, and the words emerge poorly formed. His back straightens with the onset of an idea. “We should eat it, instead.”

“We’re not here to eat it,” Shyan says. She catchs the ugobok’s eye. “We’re not here to eat you.”

The snake grumbles and writhes gently, unable to fight the effects of Abia’s spell.

“We do, however, have need of one of your eyes.”

“It’s only one, though,” Shyan says. “It’s going to make us rich.”

“Filthy rich,” Cang agrees. He draws a skinning knife, topped with a wicked hook, from his bag. He approaches the head of the snake, then stops to ponder. “Indeed,” he muses aloud. “These fangs may well be worth a pretty penny, too.”

“Well if cutting out its eye kills it, we can talk about its fangs,” Shyan says. The beast’s great orange eyes bear down upon her. “Somehow this feels cruel,” she says.

“What, you never eaten meat before?” Fassn asks. “Where do you think it comes from?”

“Come along, now,” Cang says. “I’ll do it.” He gestures to Abia. “Keep a hold on it, would you?”

ii) Shyan, back on her feet

Shyan, back on her feet, hobbles over to the prone snake. It seethes at her, tries to thrash its bulk, but its core temperature has been dropped such that the enormous creature can scarcely move at all.

“We need your tear duct,” Shyan says.

The ugobok murmurs around the rope that holds its jaws shut. It sounds like “meany mouses.”

Cang shakes his head. “Nothing cruel about it. We have need of a chemical produced inside your skull.”

Fassn listlessly kicks the flared head. “If you’d just give it to us we’d be on our way.”

“I fear we will have to cut it out,” Cang says.

The ugobok’s big eyes stare up at them. They seem almost ready to well with tears. Its frigid body has slowed to a gentle, pathetic squirm.

“I’m starting to feel a little bad about this,” Shyan says.

i) Cold runs through every fibre of the ugobok’s form

Cold runs through every fibre of the ugobok’s form. It’s the chill of a vacuum, an inescapable void. The snake’s blood vessels expand and solidify. Abia’s magic courses through it. The initial shock gives way to a longer, duller ache, and soon the ugobok finds moving its body difficult. It thrashes in a panic — fear it hasn’t felt in the face of creatures like this for an age — and catches Shyan with its powerful tail, throwing her bodily against a nearby tree.

Air rushes from her lungs as the snake’s flesh crystallizes. Abia, having left a small blue handprint on the snake’s skin, hurries to the clearing’s edge and hides in the underbrush. Cang swings down from the spire and loosens the Eckman knot with a stylish flick of the wrist, then uses the rope to bind the snake’s mouth, making great vertical leaps to get around the fang-filled maw.

The ugobok’s orange eyes gleam.